I am 33 years old. I am a human trafficking survivor. I was trafficked for 12 years. A girl doesn’t automatically become a victim of human trafficking. The abuse usually starts very early on that creates a girl to be vulnerable to exploitation.
I had to grow up fast. When I was 3 years old, child protective services took my siblings and I away from my mother because she was using drugs. This was the beginning of a childhood of abuse. From relatives, to foster care, and group homes, I endured sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. I had never experienced what a healthy and safe family looked like.
When I was 11 years old, we were staying with my aunt at the time and her boyfriend started sexually abusing me. She caught him and the police got involved. Child protective services came and the next day, I was placed into a group home. I started running away. Being in a group home, you consistently had to fight. When you have 30 girls all coming from a background of trauma together in a home, chaos happens. There was no freedom. Staff had to be with you 24/7. If you touched a door, you would be marked as AWOL and be punished for a month. I was a teenage girl and wasn’t even allowed to go out the front door.
When I was 18, my caseworker sat down with me and asked if I wanted to be emancipated out of the system. The typical age of exit from being a ward of the state is 21, but because of my current circumstances, I was given the option to be on my own and I took it. I thought things would get better but my life turned upside down.
I met a guy who promised all the right things. When we first started dating, he was kind and loving. He would introduce me to his friends and family. It made me happy and included. Something I had never felt before. I believed every word he said and for the first time in my life I felt loved. I didn’t see the red flags. After years of dating, we got married. That was also the first day everything changed. He hit me for the first time on our wedding day and a dark side of him I hadn’t seen fully before completely came out. He began asking me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with. When I would refuse, he would lock me up for days at a time and do horrible things to try and break me down. I couldn’t believe this was the man I married. I was scared for my life and started planning how I could run and run, I did, to friends and family who would notify him of where I was and then I would be back with him.
In 2018, I knew that I needed to seek outside help if I was going to make it out alive. I went into an underground program and they moved me from place to place until I was far enough away from him to be “safe.” The last place they sent me to wasn’t what I expected. I have been in 7 different shelters around the country but this was the worst place I had ever been. I didn’t feel safe and knew that I could no longer do this journey on my own. I asked a staff member at the shelter if I could go into the intake room and I turned the lights off and broke down. I collapsed on my knees and started to pray. I told God that I needed His help, I couldn’t do it without Him anymore.
I bought a plane ticket to a city where I had some friends I was going to reach out to, but when I got to the airport, something just didn’t feel right. I pulled out a map and asked God what I was going to do. I saw Montana. I had never been or didn’t know anyone there but just felt like that is where I needed to go. When I boarded the plane, a nice lady asked me if I could switch her seats so she could sit by her husband. I did and ended up sitting next to an older gentleman with a beard and long hair pulled back into a ponytail. He said he was getting back from a fishing trip and asked me why I was headed to Montana. I told him a little about what was going on and he told me to reach out to Faith Chapel, they would help me.
When we landed, I went to the women’s rescue mission and the counselor there connected me with a woman named Britney. A couple days later, I sat down with her and told her my story, how I got here, and the man on the plane told me to go to Faith Chapel for help. Britney got excited and told me that was her church and their organization partnered with them. I broke down even harder because I knew then that God had a plan for me all lined up. He brought someone into my life to push me where I needed to be.
When I first came to the HER Refuge, I was happy but emotionally drained. I sat with Britney and Sammy for a while and then they took me to see the room that would be mine. When she opened the door I broke down and started to cry. I had never seen a room so beautiful and I couldn’t believe it was for me. It had a real bed, a dresser, and everything. I had been so used to other shelters where you sleep on a cot in a room with many people. When I got in the bed, I stayed there for 3 straight days, I didn’t realize how tired I was. After the 3rd day, I got up and we sat down and had breakfast as a family, something I had never been used to. I thank God every day for where He placed me.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to fulfill my dream of graduating from high school. I finished my classes and will walk across the stage with my diploma in June. I also just got my driver’s license and my own car.